The Food of Spain

October 26, 2015

” . . . it cannot be denied that you get more enjoyment out of visiting a famous town if you are well housed and well fed.”
— W. Somerset Maugham, “Somerset Maugham’s ‘Spanish Journey’: Interlude at Oropera,”  Chicago Tribune, March 3, 1985

One of many meat shops in the Mercat de la Boqueria in Barcelona

One of many meat shops in the Mercat de la Boqueria in Barcelona

I returned from Spain very well fed.  Truly, the food of Spain was one of the highlights of my trip.

A ham shop in Madrid

A ham shop in Madrid

Busy slicing ham, through a shop window

Busy slicing ham, through a shop window

Ham seems to be emblematic of Spain, and it is a delight to still see so many small, independent butcher shops in the residential neighborhoods.  Many of the tapas bars displayed hams hanging from their ceilings.  We even saw ham-flavored potato chips for sale!

Ham-flavored Ruffles potato ships

Ham-flavored Ruffles potato ships

“One of the glories of Spain is her bread, which the Romans remarked upon a thousand years ago, and which is said to be so good because the corn is left to last possible moment to ripen upon the stalk.  It is the best bread I know, and its coarse, strong, springy substance epitomizes all that is admirable about Spanish simplicity.  It is rough indeed, and unrefined, but feels full of life . . .”
— Jan Morris, Spain

Spanish bread

Spanish bread

My friend Carol had forewarned me that Spain has the best bread in the world, so we both threw diets to the wind and took every opportunity to partake.  Bread was offered at every meal.  When I was in Baeza, I saw a man selling bread from the back of his van parked in the church square.  I imagine this was a regular stop, because the town women steadily approached to fill plastic bags with their purchases.

Selling bread from the back of a van in the church square, Baeza

Selling bread from the back of a van in the church square, Baeza

The bread man

The bread man

While we were on our week-long train tour with Al Andalus, all meals were provided, and we were fed very well indeed.  Lunches and dinners were served either on the train or at a fine restaurant at one of our stops.  Each lunch and dinner was a four-course meal, and the menus were predetermined — everyone was served the same dishes.  It was a relief to leave the food selection to our expert hosts; each dish was a surprise and utterly delicious.  Here is an example of one such lunch, which we ate at the parador in Ronda:

Appetizer: tomato mousse tartlet and priced bread with cheese and quince spread

Appetizer: tomato mousse tartlet and spiced bread with cheese and quince spread

First course: fish and shellfish puff pastry with mushroom sauce

First course: fish and shellfish puff pastry with mushroom sauce

Main course: beef tenderloin with cheese and potatoes

Main course: beef tenderloin with cheese and potatoes

Dessert: wild fruits custard with white truffle and almond cake

Dessert: wild fruits custard with white truffle and almond cake

When we were on our own (not on the train tour), Carol and I usually ate more casually.  We found a perfect way to sample lots of savory dishes by sharing two or three small plates of tapas.  The selection was varied and not at all simply snacks; tapas were rather like down-sized portions of complicated or savory dinner dishes.  One of our favorites was a plate of roasted artichokes, which I finally had the presence of mind to photograph after we had already eaten (inhaled) five of the six beautifully prepared artichokes on the plate.

Artichoke tapas

Artichoke tapas

Other tapas: potatoes brava, and beef with roasted potatoes

Other tapas: potatoes brava, and beef with roasted potatoes

Truly, I cannot imagine going hungry in Spain.  I was so impressed that Spain has not lost the tradition of small, independent shops and restaurants to cookie-cutter chain stores.  Each shop had so much individual character and many were cluttered with abundant and varied inventory.  How I wish that towns and cities in the United States could replicate this way of living.

Sandwich shop in Barcelona

Sandwich shop in Barcelona

A fresh fruit and vegetable shop in almost every residential neighborhood

A fresh fruit and vegetable shop in almost every residential neighborhood

A store and deli in Ronda

A store and deli in Ronda

Bakery

Bakery

One experience that Carol and I were determined not to miss was eating churros and chocolate.  After walking through a festival and street fair in Alcala, we decided churros and chocolate would provide a much-needed energy boost.  My oh my!  The chocolate was nothing like the hot chocolate we drink at home.  This was on the order of a thin pudding, perfect for dipping sugar-glazed churros into.

Churros and chocolate

Churros and chocolate

Churros and chocolate in Catalonia

Churros and chocolate in Catalonia

Food was such a pleasurable part of my trip to Spain, that I will be revisiting the subjects of tapas and Barcelona’s Mercat de la Boqueria in future blog posts.  For today, I want to mention one more Spanish food surprise:  Nespresso!  All the hotels we stayed in, the Al Andalus luxury train, and many shops and restaurants offer espresso drinks made on Nespresso machines (or similar k-cup-type machines).  It makes me wonder if the barista’s art of hand-crafted espresso drinks is dying in Spain.  I don’t see the same trend in Seattle where the barista still rules the coffee shops here.

 

 

 

 

 

Nothing lasts forever

“Nature reminds us that we cannot hold on forever.  Only with letting go can new life come. . . . So autumn always makes me wonder what I am holding on to.  What is it that I am afraid to let go of? . . . What must be put aside so that spring can arrive?”
— John Izzo, Second Innocence:  Rediscovering Joy and Wonder

You certainly get a sense of time passing when you see the withering and decaying flowers in the flower beds at Jello Mold Farm.  A few valiant blooms stand bravely in their last days.  Come with me for a walk in the flower fields as Jello Mold Farm prepares for winter.

A few sunflowers brighten the fields.

Sunflower bed, Jello Mold Farm

Dahlia beds

I love the plum-colored and dark-toned petals of this dahlia.

Sunset-colored foliage

Red fruit

This artichoke looks like a spiked bludgeon from medieval times.

Pick up in the flower fields, Jello Mold Farm

Luminous hydrangea leaves

Pumpkin patch

Pumpkin with black & white focal effect

Spent sneezeweed bloom

Time to let go

Jello Mold Farm in Winter

February 7, 2012

Fuchsia-colored snowberries with a dusting of frost

The winter flower beds at Jello Mold Farm were a full palette of browns.  These fuchsia-colored snowberries were an exception.  Here are some other gems from my stroll through the flower beds:

Snowberries

Bowed seed head of sunflower

Shriveled rose hips

Spiky artichoke

These artichoke leaves fall in a lovely cascade.

Desiccated Chinese lanterns

Frosty ornamental cabbages under netting

Chestnut in hand

Chestnut cluster on tree

Decomposing squash

These broken gourds look like broken dinosaur eggs!

 

Flower Market Revisited

September 2, 2011

Purchases ready for pickup, Seattle Wholesale Growers Market

It has been some time since I last visited the flower growers at the Seattle Wholesale Growers Market in Georgetown.  I made a trip down on Wednesday to see what’s blooming now in the late summer.  As always, I was captivated by the gorgeous flowers and new varieties offered for sale at this thriving market.  I so appreciate the invitation to photograph extended to me by Diane of Jello Mold Farm.  Thank you!

Buckets of colorful hydrangeas brighten this corner of the old warehouse

Red Queen Lime Zinnias -- I loved the zing of the lime color!

Red Queen Lime Zinnia

Zinnia from Jello Mold Farm

Dinnerplate Dahlias, Jello Mold Farm

More dahlias (salad plate size)

Green Trick Dianthus, North Fork Growers

These won my vote for the most unusual flower of the day.

Artichokes, Jello Mold Farm

Sunflower

Scabiosa pods

Scabiosa pods (another new-to-me flower)

These growers offer enough beauty to sustain you for days.